Leadership Profile

'I Remember': One Person's Memories of 9/11

The Office of Leadership Development requested for students and other members of the campus community to share their stories of what they were doing during the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001. Below is the story of Reference Assistant Tina Guida, who works in Cressman Library.

I remember…

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I went to work as usual on the Q train from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, to the stop I had taken every day for the past year, Rockefeller Plaza. I was working at the world's largest advertising agency at that time, BBDO, which was right across the street from Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios on the Avenue of the Americas, also known as 6th Avenue.

Tina GuidaI was running a little late, only 5 minutes, but I still had to walk another block to work and take the elevator to the 18th floor. I arrived to my building to find a crowd of people all looking down 6th Avenue at the World Trade Center, some 60 blocks away. That sounds pretty far away, but city blocks are short and that is a testament to how massive the Twin Towers stood in the Manhattan skyline. The crowd was larger than the usual smoking crowd, but a cluster of my friends were there and I casually asked, “What’s going on?” To which my friend from IT answered, “There is a fire in the World Trade Center.”

I could see smoke billowing out of the Towers, though I could not tell which one it was. In 2001, cell phones were becoming more popular but still, not everyone had one like today, including me. I had no cell phone and only knew of one person with a Blackberry; my supervisor who was a VP. We could not even speculate how this happened but knew how many people worked and visited the World Trade Center and that many people, all over the country as well, arrived to work well before 9 a.m. That alone was very sad, alarming and tragic. We had no idea what was to follow.

At about 9:03 a.m., as we were watching the World Trade Center fire, we all saw a second tuft of smoke, another explosion, and some people in the crowd knew it was a plane that had caused this though my eyes were not that sharp. At that point, we whispered, “Oh my God,” and we all went into our building to find out what was going on.

Remember, I said I worked for an advertising agency, so there were television sets mounted all over the place, on every floor, usually playing video streaming of our most famous and successful TV commercials, now all tuned to NBC news. I got up to my office and all of us from my department huddled into my boss’s office in silence as we watched on her TV the events of the day unfold with the rest of the world.

Reports began to come in: a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then at 10 a.m. we watched, in horror, as the South Tower fell. More, “Oh my God,” and now tears. We all knew, just blocks away, hundreds of lives were snuffed out within minutes. We were all in shock and silent. Then the news started to get their facts straight. This was a terror attack, not just on New York City, but on our country.

A half an hour later, the North Tower collapsed; more shock, more horror, more tears for those lives lost, innocent lives, who left that morning to go to work, just as all of us watching had done. Then there were reports of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania.

I did not have a cell phone, but Glenn did. I had just met Glenn in August, one month before 9/11/01. It took a while for our first kiss (third date) but after that day we were inseparable even though he was still living and working in New Jersey while I was living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan. He was parked in New Jersey near Secaucus, after having left work upon hearing news reports of all that was going on in NYC, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.

Now, even if I did have a cell phone, it may or may not have been of use to me. Cell transmissions were jammed, as were land lines. You often had no signal but a minute later might be able to get through on one or both, only to have the lines jammed again to a number you just got through to moments before.

So, the first person I called was my best friend in NYC at that time (and still today) and cousin’s wife, Karen, who also worked in Manhattan just blocks from me. She was fine and was able to call her husband, my cousin, who then relayed that I was fine and safe to the rest of my family who I was unable to reach by my work land line due to jammed lines again.

I did talk to Glenn, the only time I could get through to him that day, who told me he was watching caravans of ambulances enter Manhattan and to get the hell out of there if I could. Well, I could not. No one could because all access on or off the island of Manhattan had been sealed as to a) not allow possible suspects or terrorist cells to escape and b) to prevent more terrorists from entering and carrying out any other threats and attacks.

At that point, my company was trying to decide what to do with us. We were clearly under a terrorist attack. They decided that our building was closing and we were all told to leave the area. I called Karen again and she was the first one to tell me the island was sealed off and that she and a group of her co-workers were going to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and cross it by foot, where once over her husband, Brian, would pick her up by car.

I should have done this. Hindsight is 20/20. I thought I would be able to get home or to Glenn by subway, I did not know when, but I just did not know what to do.

And so, with two of my friends, I left the building and roamed midtown Manhattan for a while. All the subway stations were closed and I did not see any buses along 6th Avenue though they usually did run very regularly and often. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts where there were only a few people and a TV, where we watched more events unfold. Dunkin’ and most restaurants and bars were not charging for food and beverages, they were just feeding whoever walked in, but this Dunkin’ Donuts already had a cup on the counter collecting donations to rebuild. This amazed me and touched me. It was really telling about just how special a place New York City really is.

There was no looting or chaos: midtown Manhattan was eerily quiet and empty. I heard cabs were giving rides for free, but there was not a cab driver in sight. I decided that Penn Station (at Madison Square Garden), would be the first place to see some activity out of Manhattan. From there, I could catch my subway to Brooklyn and my mother and grandmother or a NJ PATH train to Glenn, whichever was running first.

And so, I walked by myself because my friends were going uptown. I tried to call Glenn and Mom from pay phones along the way but with no luck getting through to anyone. The station was packed with people who were thinking the same thing I was, but you could hear a pin drop in the usually very noisy station. Finally, minutes apart, the Q train to Brooklyn and the NJ PATH train to Glenn were running, at 10:20 p.m. I had been wandering the streets of Manhattan for nearly eleven hours. I then did not know what to do.

I knew transportation of any sort would be strictly limited for days if not weeks. I did want to go home but I did not want to be separated from Glenn in New Jersey for an extended period of time. Glenn would pick me up from the train station if I went to New Jersey. I would have to walk, not far, but I was exhausted at that point and it was dark, from the subway to my grandmother’s home in Brooklyn. I got to a pay phone and somehow, got through to Glenn’s cell. He did not know how I was making out that entire day.

“Honey, it’s me.”

“God Tina, where are you?”

“I am at Penn Station. Trains are running now, both to Brooklyn and New Jersey. I don’t know what to do. If I have off from work tomorrow, I want to be with you. I might not be able to get to you in New Jersey for God knows how long after all this, but my family is worried.”

“Honey, the whole country is going to have off from work tomorrow. Just get on a train and get over here. I will be waiting at the station, and I will call Gram.”

I know not a single person who lost life in the Twin Towers that day, but 10 years later, I feel as if I know them all. Especially the children. I know what it is like to have your father leave for work one morning, and then never come home again. My father died of a heart attack while at work in March 1986. All I could think of that day, were all the children and wives who lost their husbands and fathers that morning. I know hundreds lost sisters, mothers, brothers, friends, and children, and I was sad for that, too.

I know a thing or two about loss, and I don’t know any one of my friends and family who does not as well. But I also know a thing or two about rebuilding a life, twice, and that long road to rebuilding can only be traveled with the loving support of friends and family and above all, especially at times when you are totally alone, with the grace of God. May God bless all my friends and family and may God bless the United States of America.

P.S.: Tina and Glenn are now married with two boys.